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Image: The goddess Śrī

Title: The goddess Śrī

Source:
Wellcome Trust Library
Shelfmark:
Gamma 453
Author:
unknown
Date of creation:
1512
Folio number:
24 recto
Total number of folios:
139
Place of creation:
western India
Language:
Ardhamāgadhī Prākrit
Medium:
watercolour on paper
Copyright:
Wellcome Library, London
JAINpedia Copyright Information

Description

The caption in the top-right corner says: likṣmī dekhyā – 'she saw Lakṣmī'.

The 14 dreams Queen Triśalā has after finding out she is pregnant announce the greatness of the future baby, who will become Mahāvīra. The goddess Lakṣmī or Śrī, who embodies prosperity, is the traditional way in which the fourth of the 14 auspicious dreams is represented. The fourth dream is often depicted much larger than the others in the full sequence.

After they have all been listed in the text in one verse, each dream is described individually. Often, the illustrations follow this pattern. Here, the painter has decided to represent individually only one of the dreams – Śrī.

A goddess with four arms, Śrī is seated in the lotus position, which is an ascetic posture to aid meditation. She sits on a lotus flower that rises from the lotus lake on top of the Himalayan mountain. In her two upper hands she holds two lotuses. Śrī is frequently shown with lotuses.

The gesture of her lower left hand indicates giving – varada. In the lower right hand she carries a kind of water pot. These may be seen as symbolising prosperity and generosity. She has a tilaka on her forehead as an ornament.

As a goddess, Śrī wears costly clothing and superb jewellery. These are described in the text alongside.

Lines 3 to 7 of the text beside the painting form the beginning of an elaborate, poetic description of Śrī:

And then [the queen saw] Goddess Śrī, with her face like [a] full moon, seated at the top of the Himavat mountain on a lotus in a lotus lake, highly auspicious, on a lofty throne at a beautiful elevation: with a firmly placed golden tortoise as her befitting [divine] vehicle; with copper-tinged, delightful, fine and well-set on swelling, thick and dyed muscles; with fingers tender like lotus petals set on her dainty hands and feet.

Slightly adapted Kalpasūtra of Bhadrabāhu Svāmī
Translated by Kastur Chand Lalwani
1979

Other visual elements

The original paper is slightly damaged. But, as with many Kalpa-sūtra manuscripts, there is a clear intention to make the manuscript a valuable and remarkable object in itself. This aim is signalled by the:

  • coloured background for the text
  • gold ink instead of the standard black ink
  • decorated border with blue floral motifs
  • diamond filled with gold ink, with arrow-like blue lines and surrounding blue border as ornamental motifs.

The diamond in the centre is a symbolic reminder of the way in which manuscripts were bound when they were on palm leaf. Strings through holes in the paper were used to thread together the loose folios so the reader could turn them over easily. The diamond is in the place where one of the holes would once have been.

Background

The Kalpa-sūtra is the most frequently illustrated Jain text of the Śvetāmbara sect. It is read and recited by monks in the Śvetāmbara festival of Paryuṣaṇ, which takes place in August to September each year.

The first part of the Kalpa-sūtra deals with the lives of the Jinas, especially Mahāvīra, Pārśva, Nemi and Ṛṣabha. It features almost identical stories of their births, lives as princes, renunciation, enlightenment and final emancipation. The second part – Sthavirāvali – is a praise of the early teachers of Jainism. The third part – Sāmācārī – deals with particular monastic rules to be followed during the rainy season.

Glossary

Dhyāna
Sanskrit for 'meditation', one of the six internal austerities or tapas that help purify the soul of karma. Meditation is deep thought about religious doctrine or mental focus on spiritual matters over a period of time. An important part of many religions, meditation is especially important in Jain belief because it forms key elements of religious practice and spiritual development.
Kevala-jñāna
Omniscience, enlightenment or perfect knowledge – the highest of the five types of knowledge , where one knows everything wherever and whenever it is. It is extremely difficult to attain, equivalent to the 13th stage of spiritual purity in the guṇa-sthāna. Digambaras believe only men can achieve it whereas Śvetāmbaras believe that both men and women can become enlightened.
Paryuṣaṇ
An eight-day festival in August / September, which is the most important event of the religious calendar for Śvetāmbara lay Jains. They fast, read, spend time with monks and meditate. The last day is the occasion for public repentance. Reading the Kalpa-sūtra and sponsoring new manuscripts or editions of this canonical book are associated with this festival.
Śvetāmbara
'White-clad’ in Sanskrit, the title of one of the two main divisions of Jainism, in which both male and female mendicants wear white robes. There are some differences of doctrine or belief between these two sects and to some extent their followers consider themselves as belonging to distinct branches. Divisions can be fierce in practical matters, for example, over the ownership of pilgrimage places, but all sects see themselves as Jains.
Triśalā
The kṣatriya birth-mother of Mahāvīra. Queen Triśalā was married to King Siddhartha.
Ascetic
Someone who withdraws from ordinary life to meditate and practise physical hardships in order to advance spiritually. Jain ascetics or mendicants beg for food from devout lay followers and wander the land. Also used as an adjective to describe the practice of rigorous, even extreme, physical hardships in the belief that it leads to a higher spiritual condition.
Deity
A god or divine figure, often with physical powers beyond those of a human and with superhuman abilities.
Monk
A man who has taken a public vow to withdraw from ordinary life to formally enter religious life and advance spiritually. Frequently, monks perform physical austerities or undergo physical hardships in order to progress spiritually.
Rainy season
The annual four-month rainy period in India, lasting roughly from June / July to October / November. Heavy rain, strong storms and gale-force winds are very common during this period. Mendicants cannot travel around and must stay in one place to avoid breaking their vow of non-violence and because the monsoon makes travelling on foot difficult and dangerous. It is known as cāturmāsa in Sanskrit, comāsa in Hindi and comāsu in Gujarati.
Lotus lake
Lake Pushkar in modern-day Rajasthan is one of the five holiest pilgrimage sites for Hindus, who associate it with the Hindu trinity of Brahmā, Viṣṇu and Śiva. The god Brahmā killed a murderous demon with his weapon, the lotus flower. Three petals fell to the earth, each creating a lake now dedicated to each of the principal gods. Devotees believe that bathing in the lakes cures many skin diseases.
Lotus
A plant noted for its beautiful flowers, which has symbolic significance in many cultures. In Indian culture, the lotus is a water lily signifying spiritual purity and detachment from the material world. Lotuses frequently feature in artwork of Jinas, deities, Buddha and other holy figures.
Padmāsana
Said to resemble the petals of a lotus, the lotus position involves sitting cross-legged with each foot on the opposite thigh. The soles face upwards while the knees rest on the ground. This posture is associated with meditation. Jinas and other enlightened figures are often depicted in this pose.
Śrī
Hindu goddess of wealth, Śrī is the personification of spiritual energy and is closely associated with the lotus. Also a name for Lakṣmī, Hindu goddess of beauty, wisdom, fertility and wealth.
Tilaka
A mark worn on the forehead and other parts of the body for religious reasons. It symbolises the third eye, which is associated with spiritual enlightement and meditation. Historically, only deities, priests, ascetics and worshippers wore tilakas. It is usually a paste or powder made of sandalwood, ashes, coloured powder (kumkum) or clay and may be applied in various lines, dots and U shapes.
Vāhana
The vehicle of a Hindu god or goddess. Usually an animal, the vāhana fulfils one or more roles and may:
  • be the deity's emblem
  • symbolise positive attributes associated with the deity
  • represent evil powers over which the god has triumphed
  • help the divinity to perform duties.
The vāhana may also have its own divine powers or be worshipped in its own right.
Auspicious
Favourable or lucky. Auspicious objects bring good fortune and may predict good events or a bright future. 

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